Magazine article Humanities

There's No Place like Kansas

Magazine article Humanities

There's No Place like Kansas

Article excerpt

THOUSANDS OF HOMESTEADERS AND COWBOYS passed through Kansas in the 187Os, at a time when few buffalo remained, and none ranged freely-but the song "Home on the Range," with its catchy first line "Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam," appealed to travelers. Person by person and year by year, the tune spread, eventually becoming an iconic cowboy tune.

Decades before President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dubbed it his favorite tune and Admiral Richard E. Byrd claimed he "broke the loneliness" by singing the song while traversing Antarctica, "Home" was a poem written by Brewster Higley, a Kansas physician and homesteader. In 1872 Higley read his poem, titled "My Western Home," to a patient he was treating for a gunshot wound to the foot. The patient encouraged him to set the poem to music. Higley enlisted a carpenter who also happened to be a member of the four-person Harlan Brothers Orchestra, and the song was composed the following year.

As the song's popularity spread, its authorship was forgotten and several states claimed it as their own. A series of lawsuits followed, but by 1947 "Home" was reattributed to Kansas and became the official state song. It would go on to be recorded by crooners as varied as Gene Autrey, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby.

The ascendance of "Home" from a dugout dwelling in Smith County, Kansas, to its place in American culture-with tales of its litigious past, and the statute that made it the state song-is detailed on a new website called Kansas History Online. Conceived by Henry Fortunato, editor-in-chief and project director, and co-developed with Victor Bailey, director of the University of Kansas' Hall Center for the Humanities, the pilot version of the website launched in late May, in commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Kansas Territory and the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The home page offers visitors daily snippets of state history, as well as detailed, lively stories, grouped by theme and available in condensed and narrative forms. "For those who want a cursory history, that's there. For those who want a deeper understanding, that's also there," Bailey says.

The site's first two collections of articles are "Bloody Kansas" and "Home on the Range. …

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